Image 50

Figure 4: Washington

John Frost’s depictions of George Washington in the Pictorial History of the United States were highly sentimental, even saccharine, in their hagiographic intentions, but Spencer outdid his predecessor in his filiopietistic treatment of America's patriarch. Christ-like in his sacrifices and in his occasional martyrdom, the first president was “raised up” by “that God” who “imposed upon him” duties and obligations that no other man could face. As with Christ, "trials and perplexities, and humiliations waited upon his every step,” Spencer noted, the kind of “jealousies that every great and good man must expect to meet with in an envious and malicious world.” “But trials are not sent without design,” Spencer moralized, and “Washington was formed of that material which is purified and strengthened by trial.” Spencer concluded that Washington was the only leader who could look “beyond the veil which concealed the unknown future” to see the “irrefragable proofs” of his and his nation’s greatness. [77]

A similar symbolic vocabulary was evident in Chappel’s portrait of George Washington in which the first president is surrounded by objets de vertu associated with his important life: documents of state, flags, an eagle, a sword and the principle of E Pluribus Unum [Image 50].  In terms of facial expression, one can see the strides made in the art of book illustration since Croome’s time. Chappel was able to achieve a greater subtlety of expression and more delicate effects than Croome, since steel engraving and lithography allowed for the expression of facial modulations and even flesh tones. Chappel became expert at developing a better sense of the ‘relief’ of the surfaces of his images and demonstrating depth of field through accurate presentation of gradients of texture and variations of light and shade. He had available to him some rather sophisticated ways of conveying undulations of surface and contour in such illustrations, including the use of cross-hatching and, in the case of lithography, “stippling,” in which the engraver’s burin is “flicked” across the surface of a stone to create the illusion of modeling. [78]

By his own admission, Spencer's fawning verbal tribute to Washington was less effective than Chappel’s composite visual recreations in dramatizing the moral genius of the man through the historical bric-a-brac of his career. “In attempting to express in words an adequate conception of the character of Washington,” Spencer conceded, “we feel how poor and weak is all language, at our command, to enable us to do justice to the veneration and love with which the millions of Americans regard the father of their country.” [79]  An acceptable substitute could be found, however, in allegorical illustrations which rendered secular events sacred. Such pictorial depictions provided a catalogue of moral lessons with which no written text could compete reliably.

[77] Spencer, History of the United States, I:223, I:224, I:377, I:357, I:455, II:185.
[78] Jussim, Visual Communication and the Graphic Arts, 19-30.
[79] Spencer, History of the United States, II:481.